Albert is a Software Application Engineer currently employed with K2 Technologies, Inc. K2 designs, manufactures, markets and distributes software supporting the semiconductor industry's design, verification, process development, lithographic, pattern generation and manufacturing environments. Albert, by his own admission, enjoys living life to the fullest. Some of his activities include going to the theater, dining, camping, boating, scuba diving, water skiing or just hanging out at the pool. He is currently learning new tricks on his hydro-foil ski and making lots of new friends. He plans to compete in September 2000 at the Flight Worlds being held at Lake Elsinore, CA. His favorite quote, "Tough times never last; tough people do !"
Albert Pruitt's Story
A BIT OF HISTORY
In June 1977, at the age of fifteen in a motorcycle accident, I sustained a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) and was diagnosed a level T10-T11 paraplegic. I was told I would never stand or walk again. I could not and would not accept this. Over time (6 to 12 months) I got some sensation back on my left side, some trace on the right, and a tremendous amount of tone or spasticity.
The most difficult obstacle I faced was the spasms and spasticity. I stretched every day for hours at a time and crawled around the house on my hands and knees. The tone continued to increase to point of having difficulty bending my legs. The focus now was to control this tone to my advantage and stand. I then faced the next obstacle....BALANCE.
My dad built for me parallel bars from cast-iron pipe. As my strength increased I was able to force a stiff-legged reciprocal gait by planting one foot and hiking my hip around. This was by no means a practical way to ambulate. Once my balance improved enough, I ventured away from the bars using under-arm crutches. This is probably when I learned to fall gracefully. "Gracefully" by my definition, meaning I did not break my neck, arms or legs.
Also, dad rounded up a stationary bicycle and bolted a pair of sandals to the pedals. He lifted me onto the seat (while struggling to get my legs spread apart), strapped my feet in and began to turn the pedals with his hands and arms. The passive motion began to break trough the tone, it's resistance evident by strain in my dad's face.
It was at this point I realized the magnitude of my situation. I then reflected back on my ups and downs, my anger and depression, my sadness and my sorrow. It was then when without any doubt of failure I made a commitment to myself and my dad to never give up. 1977 would prove to be the year I was born to a new life, a new lifestyle, and above all a great CHALLENGE...., I chose to ...."live", because it was better than the .....alternative.
BEGINNING OF A NEW LIFE
I left my family and friends to undergo formal rehab. My new home for 3 months would be the Childrens Hospital in Oklahoma City. There they taught me the lifestyle of a paraplegic. Transfers, skin care, bathing, catheterizing, etc... I had no idea..!!
It was here I really learned to manage and/or use my tone. They taught me the proper straight legged swing through gait. The one I learned on my own using the under-arm crutches became a heck of a lot easier with fore-arm crutches. This was my primary means of ambulation and my freedom from the chair of 20 years [another story], until one careless day I broke my tibia. Once the bone healed and I got back on my feet I realized I had pushed my tone and spasticity to the limit, and had to find a replacement.
IN SEARCH FOR NEW TECHNOLOGY
Following a referral from a physical therapist, in November of 1996 I participated in a specialized clinical program available to SCI patients which involved the use of FNS. The program was at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas and administered by Patricia K. Winchester, PhD, P.T. and George Wharton, M.D.
The program centered around the "Parastep I System" a non-invasive system for standing and walking. The Parastep I System is manufactured by Sigmedics, Inc. of Fairborn, Ohio, U.S.A., and has received FDA approval following a PMA submission and multi-center trials, and has been classified as a Class III medical device. This device allows appropriately selected and trained spinal cord injured persons to stand and ambulate through the use of functional neuromuscular stimulation (FNS).
After my successful completion of the initial program I requested benefits coverage from my health insurance company (AETNA) for the purchase of a Parastep I System. My request was immediately denied without review of any of the supporting data provided. This data detailed the physical improvements I personally had realized, attributable to my use of FNS, not to mention those realized by many others before me, and potentially of the .....thousands to follow. Not only does the use of FNS improve the physical and mental health for SCI persons, but also I firmly believe it will significantly reduce future long term health related costs !
Unfortunately FNS technology was perceived by the Health Insurance community as investigative in nature. AETNA sited that their determination was based on information provided to them by the American Medical Association (AMA). If this is indeed was true then I am concerned that the AMA is not aware of the tremendous benefits associated with this FNS technology. There are many uses of Electrical Stimulation currently being utilized, which range from bone growth stimulation to pain reduction. I was even more concerned because FNS technology was being specifically disallowed in cases of people with SCI.
Fortunately I was able to gather enough supporting information and documentation which I submitted to my employer's Medical Insurance Benefits, Appeals Department. Upon review they made a positive determination in my favor and approved my request for benefits coverage toward the purchase of my own 6-channel, Parastep I System.
PROVEN RESULTS USING FNS
Using FNS I can now walk with a reciprocal gait at an average rate of 30 meters/minute, I use a pair of forearm crutches specially customized with electrical switches and wiring to trigger the FNS commands. My FNS system (crutches and unit) has become an integral part of my life. I wear it to work two or three times a week, and in my leisure during the weekend. Continued use has allowed me to realize demonstrated improvements in several areas, which include the following:
- Decreased energy levels required during ambulation. I developed a unique ability to manage and utilize my muscle tone or spasticity to ambulate using a swing-through gate. Using this type of gate requires me to literally carry my own body weight on my arms and wrists. The use of the Parastep system allows me to off-load weight and stress from my upper body and distribute the majority of my weight to my legs where it is intended.
- Increased lower body muscle strength and bulk. Strength tests were performed, using a kincom prior to beginning the FNS training and at various intervals during, which showed significant continued improvements.
- Definite improvements in my cardiovascular system, blood flow and circulation, and overall cadence.
Also, a biopsy of the quadriceps leg muscle was performed prior to the FNS training and again after 3 months of continued use. The results were astonishing! The appearance of the muscle tissue from the first biopsy was very light in color indicating fatty tissue with poor circulation. The post biopsy was very deep red in color and clearly indicated a much healthier state. Analysis of tissue cross-sections taken from each biopsy and viewed under high magnification confirmed a significant increase in muscle fiber types and size was evident.
- Decreased pain associated with hyper extended knee joints. One of my major complaints during the initial interview was severe pain in my left knee. Upon further evaluation there was evidence of hyper- extension in both knees (left more than the right). The severity of this pain was evident by the involuntary reflex of my left leg referred to as a "flexor withdrawal". This condition was causing me to become very unstable when standing and ambulating. The use of FNS along with corrective orthosis (AFO), my pain has subsided almost entirely and the flexor withdrawals have diminished completely.
The Parastep system had made a tremendous positive improvement to my general health and well being thus far. I firmly believe continued use is essential to improving and maintaining general health. Not only do the above realized results indicate this, but also suggest that future medical costs may in fact be significantly reduced though prevention... The old adage.. " an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure .... " still holds true.